MR takes place in the tech-saturated near future (nicely realized in the film, which has a visual feel halfway between Blade Runner
), around 2050, in Washington DC. A perfect choice for a crowd-pleasing techno-thriller. TO is set in the present, in France
. Not only that, but it's middle-class suburban France, which kind of looks like Walnut Creek, Calfornia, only with Alps. Not very Summer Blockbuster-y at all. ADVANTAGE: REPORT
MR is about a cop named John Anderton (Tom Cruise). Anderton can best be described as having all the action-hero toughness of Mission: Impossible's Ethan Hunt, together with the charm and with of Top Gun's "Maverick" Mitchell, and a dash of the angst and grieving of Born on The Fourth of July's Ron Kovic. In other words, pretty much the same guy Cruise always plays. But hey, he's good at it: charming, likeable and believable. Given Cruises' excellent summer movie track record, we can conclude that Speilberg has cast a good choice for his hero. TO's main character is an out of work consultant named Vincent, played superbly by Aurélien Recoing. Recoing, who is capable of minute but highly evocative changes of facial expression and can express subtle shades of emotional color, makes the character of Vincent at once enigmatic and sympathetic. Unfortunately, he's also balding and kind of homely, which puts a big ding in TO's mass audience potential.
TO concerns Vincent's experiences after he (so to speak) catches a soul-chilling glimpse of what Heidegger called "the Nothing that Nothings". Having consequently lost his job, Vincent sort of drifts around in a sea of ennui while trying to keep the truth about his employment status a secret from his family. As this charade can obviously not be carried on indefinitely, the plot gains most of it's propulsive force from the question of how Vincent's situation will be resolved. It's fascinating, but not exactly the sort of thing to get millions of summertime filmgoers cheering in their seats and planning on a second viewing. MR is about a cop on a futuristic crime prevention squad which uses psychics to track and arrest perpretrators before they commit crimes. One day, cop gets implicated in a murder. Cop runs. Excitement and suspence follow apace. Cop uncovers conspiracy (sort of). KA-CHING!
TO features a number of fine French actors. Karin Viard as Vincent's wife, segues convinvcingly from tenderness and everyday affection, to bewilderment, misery, and anger. She is also ample-bosomed: TO's first nod in a blockbustery direction. Other cast members include Jean-Pierre Mangeot, an even balance between authoritarianism and indulgence as Vincent's father, and Didier Perez, whose performance as a Rogue-With-a-Heart-of-Gold deftly eludes cliche. Unfortunately, none of these people are exactly A-list stars: no one's going to queue up for half an hour to see Jean-Pierre Mangeot portray someone's dad. The supporting cast of MR includes Max Von Sydow, who is forced to stoop a lot in his scenes with the three foot tall Cruise, and Andy Garica, who, distractingly, appears in his scenes to be in the process of trying to grow a goatee (seriously). Spielberg also throws in an intriguing bunch of talkative weirdos for Anderton to encounter during his adventures, but his film does not showcase Blockbuster casting in the supporting roles: no J-Lo, no Jimmy Kimmel, none of those charming people that "Raymond" sitcom. Is he going art-house on us, or did he blow the budget getting Cruise? Through sheer force of quality, TO comes out ahead in this category.
The diference between the two directors can be summed up as follows: Cantet is a serious director making serious movies. Spielberg is a serious director making frivolous movies (yes, Schindler's List was a frivolous movie). In TO, every shot is meticulously composed without being obtrusively artsy, and visual themes (windows, reflected images, people fading away into fog or darkness) are woven into each scene in an effective but unobtrusive manner. One gets the impression that Cantet could pull a well-directed movie out of his nose if you gave him a plot outline and ten seconds to dig around. Spielberg is all color filters and light pouring into the shot like a 16th century Dutch oil painting. He tends to ogle the "gee whiz" aspects of his futuristic settings (Look! it's the oven timer of the future! Check this out: it's the newspaper of the future!, etc) a bit overmuch, but he sets out each scene with satisfying precision, and throws in some nice metaphoric shots (e.g., the mask cutting scene, the broken mirror). There is also a visual trope involving clocks/wristwatches that I couldn't quite wrap my mind around. Spielberg really shines in MR's chase and action scenes, which have a real visceral thrill, and serve to remind the viewer that this is the man who gave us Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Duel. TO, to its disadvantage does not have a single fight or chase scene, and nothing whatsoever "of the future".
MR features several well-timed and effective jokes. TO is about as funny as Ikiru.
Both movies use a similar gimmick at the end. The amazing finale of Cantet's film, which lingers over what seems like the emotion-drenched final shot, but then caroms back in another direction for one more scene, kicked my ass so bad it took me three days to learn to use a spoon again. MR likewise sets up a "fake" ending before continuing on to the real one. I don't think it's giving away too much to say that Spielberg goes a little nuts with the sugary-glop ladle in the concluding scenes, but if there's one thing summer blockbuster audiences love, it's a sentimental finale.
The astute reader will have noticed that Minority Report swept nearly all the categories in this face-off. And rightly so: it has all the right stuff for a big summer movie, and also happens (despite a few glaring plot holes) to be a high quality (what smartasses like me call "deeply shallow"*), satisfying flick, worth seeing twice. While Time Out is a terrific movie --if I had the time, I'd commit the fucker to memory-- the fact remains that it simply does not measure up in key Summer Blockbuster areas, and I predict that it will not be much of a box-office threat to productions like Minority Report, Mr. Deeds, or MIB II. Oh well, there's always next year. Perhaps someone could convince Cantet to direct a "Speed Buggy" movie.
*You may be tempted to look for some kind of profound subtext or message or whatever in Minority Report. Don't bother. There isn't one.